Birds eye, tens of ships anchored in the Strait, Singapore.
ID 158887365 © Klodien | Dreamstime.com

Ships leaving yards after scrubber retrofits are being held at anchor to await open slots on service networks and may face further idling due to soft demand forecasts, said Alphaliner.

However, given the substantial fuel cost saving achievable by these vessels, still able to bunker with HFO (heavy fuel oil), against the more-expensive LSFO (low-sulphur fuel oil) that ships without scrubber technology must consume, carriers’ ship planners want to redeploy them at the earliest opportunity.

Following the introduction of the IMO 2020 sulphur cap regulations, brokers have already established a two-tier market for scrubber-fitted containerships. The consultant said the substantial daily hire rate differential was “setting scrubber-fitted vessels apart”.

Indeed, one London container broker told The Loadstar charterers were offering “silly” rates for ships with scrubbers.

He said: “I think the premium for LSFO has caught many operators out, especially in Asia, and we are being offered double the daily hire rate for any scrubber ships we can get our hands on.”

According to the latest survey by Alphaliner, the number of ships undergoing scrubber installation had fallen to 84 on 20 January – down from 104 units on 6 January.

As long as the premium for LSFO remains significant – it is currently around $200 per ton in Rotterdam and $250 per ton in Singapore – it follows that scrubber-fitted ships will be in great demand regardless of any weaknesses that might develop in the overall charter market.

In this respect, the outbreak of the coronavirus in China and subsequent delay in a return to manufacturing after the Chinese new year, is likely to be a drag on the market as carriers void further headhaul sailings from Asia.

In the absence scrubber-fitted ships, charterers are looking for the most fuel-efficient designs on offer, with the probability that ageing fuel-guzzling vessels will become early candidates for recycling.

And carriers that decided at an early stage on a pro-scrubber strategy, such as MSC and Evergreen, are set to enjoy a significant cost advantage over predominately anti-scrubber peers such as Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and ONE.

A carrier source told The Loadstar recently that, on its Asia-North Europe route, it was now budgeting to recoup the direct cost of scrubber retrofits in just over six months.

“Of course, it has cost us quite a lot of money to position the ships at the shipyards and charter temporary replacements, but the fuel cost savings are already substantial, and that will give us a significant advantage for as long as the premium for low-sulphur bunkers continues,” he said.

And shippers that have mostly agreed to pay carriers’ low-sulphur fuel charges do not appear to have differentiated between container lines on the quantum of the amount payable, with several major forwarders calculating their own contribution regardless of whether the carrier deploys scrubber-fitted ships or not within its fleet.

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